Sunday, September 7, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for September 8-14

September 8–September 14


THE STRANGER (September 9, 8:00 pm): This film shows why Orson Welles was one of the most important and influential actors and directors of the 1940s. This 1946 film noir has one of the finest pairings in cinema history: Welles and Edward G. Robinson, though Welles didn't cast the actors and wanted Agnes Moorehead to play Eddie G's role. Welles is a Nazi who has effectively erased his past and is living comfortably as a small-town private-school teacher, married to Loretta Young. As a Nazi hunter, Eddie G. figures out Welles' past, but has no actual evidence. He must convince Young of her husband's past, which isn't easy. It's a hard-hitting film with great suspense and incredible performances from the actors. Only five years after Citizen Kane, Welles was already considered a huge headache to Hollywood. But to his credit, Welles is exceptionally focused on not only his on-screen work, but what he does behind the camera in this film.

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (September 9, 2:00 am): A large ensemble cast of brilliant actors - Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell - and memorable small roles played by Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich make this drama one of the most riveting films made. It also makes you question the responsibility of people who commit atrocities or do nothing to stop them. The movie is a post-World War II military tribunal in which three American judges (Tracy as the chief judge in an extraordinary role) are hearing the cases of four former German judges (Lancaster is the main ex-jurist) accused of committing war atrocities for passing death sentences on people during the Nazi regime. The film is horrifying, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches, including showing real footage of piles of dead bodies found by American soldiers at the end of the war. You have to decide for yourself if being German during the regime of Adolf Hitler is a war crime. 


RED HEADED WOMAN (September 12, 6:30 pm): Watching Jean Harlow in Hell’s Angels (1930) and The Public Enemy (1932), one thing sticks out like a glass jaw: the woman can’t act. But she goes to MGM, and a year later she is completely mesmerizing in this story of a gold digger who busts up her boss’s marriage, and that’s for starters. Harlow shows a real flair for comedy and lighter roles, which is perfect for the film. She also had the perfect writer in Anita Loos, who took what was a turgid soap opera by original writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and turned in into a completely tongue-in-cheek, saucy comedy. Had Harlow played the original script, the film would have sunk like a lead balloon. Instead she readily adapted to Loos’ scenario and took it from there. Its one of my favorites from the Pre-Code era and that is entirely due to Harlow. The care taken to develop Harlow is why MGM stood out from the other studios.

THE OLD MAID (September 14, 8:00 pm): Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins are at it again in this lush and glossy soap opera from Warner Brothers. Bette and Miriam are cousins Charlotte and Delia during the Civil War, and both are head over heels for Clem (George Brent). But it’s Bette whom Clem gets preggers. He enlists in the Union Army and is conveniently killed on the battlefield. Years later, Bette is running a home of war orphans, including her love child by Clem, who she keeps secret until she plans to marry Joe Ralston (Jerome Cowan), and confesses all to Delia, who married Joe’s brother, Jim (James Stephenson) on the rebound. Bad move. We’ll stop here, but suffice to say the suds really begin to flow as the movie progresses. Directed by Edmund Goulding, who had a flair for this type of film, The Old Maid is Grade-A entertainment, thanks to the efforts of Davis and Hopkins, who absolutely loathed each other in real life. 

WE DISAGREE ON ... DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (September 12, 12:45 am)

ED: A. Of all the versions made of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic over the years, this is my favorite. This is the film that established Frederic March as a serious actor and he is superb in it, as is Miriam Hopkins as Ivy. Director Rouben Mamoulian teamed with cinematographer Karl Struss to make full use of the camera not just as a recorder, which had been the case with sound films of the era, but also as an active participant in the framing and movement of the film. Note the use of wipes and fades to move from scene to scene and first-person perspective to heighten our viewing experience. Even transitional shots and effects are used to intensify our attention. The lengthy dissolves linger beautifully into superimposed imagery, for example, the image of Ivy’s legs superimposed over the scene of Jekyll and Dr. Lanyon’s conversation. Mamoulian makes full use of camera positioning for some extraordinary shots. Watch also for the scene where Hyde appears to be breaking the fourth wall – looking through the camera and into the next room. Returning to the performances let me note that March won the Best Actor Oscar (which he shared with Wallace Beery for The Champ). This would be the only acting award granted for a horror film until Anthony Hopkins won for The Silence of the Lambs. March gives a nuanced performance, carefully straddling the line between the repressed Jekyll and the libidinous Hyde without going overboard into the ecstasies of overacting. Hopkins dazzles as Ivy: after Jekyll drives off a man who tried to attack her and takes her back to her flat, her attempt at seducing Jekyll is exquisitely done, and tragic, as Jekyll resists, but Hyde, the beast within Jekyll, remembers. Although I also love MGM’s 1941 remake with Spencer Tracy as Jekyll/Hyde and Ingrid Bergman as Ivy, it’s the 1931 version that triumphs due to Mamoulian.

DAVID: B-. This is a good film with solid performances by Frederic March in the title role and Miriam Hopkins as Ivy, a sexy and sexual bar singer who catches the eye of Dr. Jekyll. Also, the camera work and makeup that shows Jekyll's transformation to Mr. Hyde is impressive for a 1931 film. The main issue I have with the film is I'm just not a fan of the story. That makes enjoying a movie version of the film – and there have been a lot of them – challenging. This film isn't as true to the Robert Louis Stevenson book as other versions though it is among the better ones. Interestingly enough, I prefer the 1941 movie, which stars Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman (who is absolutely delicious in the "bad-girl" role). That version is almost a scene-by-scene remake of the 1931 film, minus some of the Pre-Code sexual innuendo. The differences are the 1941 film stars actors I consider stronger than March and Hopkins, and better special effects because of the advancement of the technology over those 10 years. I wouldn't discourage anyone from watching the 1931 version, and recommend it to those who are fans of the genre. However, Ed's enjoyment of this version of the film is significantly greater than mine.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here. 

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